Contract Ratification Boosts School Employees

by Mark McCullough  |  November 24, 2015

Contract Ratification Boosts School Employees AFSCME Local 1184 members Aurora Soza, left, and Lovedes Perez joined their food service coworkers and union brothers and sisters in standing united for a strong new contract. Credit: Mark McCullough

MIAMI – The bus drivers, maintenance and food service workers – and all the other hard-working men and women of AFSMCE Florida Local 1184 who make the country’s fourth-largest school system happen every day – have approved a new three-year contract with the Miami-Dade Public School system.

The contract, overwhelmingly ratified in votes cast at 10 worksites, is retroactive to July 1. The agreement includes a $10 minimum hourly wage that will help battle the county’s growing economic inequality. It also includes step increases, which workers have not had in nine years. Together, they should help the district attract more applicants to available job openings.

The union also won a key provision to limit the school board’s ability to outsource current and future jobs. AFSCME negotiators also were able to include language that will help stabilize health insurance costs, providing long-term certainty on a critical issue to both employees and the school board.

The ratification vote culminated months of intensive member-to-member outreach to learn about the workers’ priorities leading up to the negotiations. Local 1184 members also rallied and held other public events to explain why this contract matters. More than 100 workers joined the union during the ratification campaign.

“This is not just more of the same from us or from the school board,” said AFSCME Local 1184 Pres. Vicki Hall, a district school bus driver. “Thanks to our strong and united voice, this contract ensures that our jobs and rights are protected and that we are making real progress for our families and our communities.”

Noneconomic provisions will be in effect for the length of the contract, while economic issues will be subject to bargaining again at the end of this school year. During this time, AFSCME members will continue organizing their co-workers, focusing on the need for stronger job protections, retirement security and ensuring that hourly employees can qualify for employer-provided health care coverage.

“I voted yes on this contract because it is moving us in the right direction,” said Lovedes Perez, a food service worker and Local 1184 member.

“It is important for all of us to vote for this, but also to keep united as we keep working to grow and advocate for our jobs and our families,” added co-worker Aurora Soza.


Women Need Economy that Works for Everyone

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  November 20, 2015

Women Need Economy that Works for Everyone Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking at a press conference this week, endorsed EPI’s Women’s Economic Agenda, which includes better access to child care and paid leave for personal or family illness. Credit: Olivia Sandbothe

Did you know that the wage gap between men and women workers has been narrowing for the past three decades? Great, right? Well it’s not for the reason you might think. It turns out that women’s wages have been stagnant since the 1970s, while men’s wages have been falling!

Dr. Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute joined members of Congress and labor leaders on Wednesday to call for progress that goes beyond closing the wage gap. “Gender wage parity will not improve women’s economic prospects if men’s and women’s wages are equal but both are stagnant,” she told a crowd at the U.S. Capitol. Instead, the EPI is proposing a 12-point Women’s Economic Agenda that addresses the many different pressures that women face in today’s economy.

Among the priorities is better access to child care and paid leave for personal or family illness. Women still bear the brunt of child care duties in the United States, but only 12 percent of private-sector employees can take paid time off to care for a family member. And few can afford regular child care. While the costs of child care are skyrocketing – it’s more expensive than rent in most parts of the country – the largely female workforce that provides this service is still struggling to get by.

Child care provider Janell Lankford told the crowd that she is barely getting by even though she works about 70 hours each week. But she strongly believes in the value of her work. “I have a passion,” she said. “I’m not going to walk away from somebody else’s children – they still need to be taught and they still need to be loved.”

Lankford is part of the Fight for 15, which is working to secure a $15 hourly wage and union rights for child care providers. The right to form a union is another important part of the Women’s Economic Agenda. Women in unions are much more likely than their nonunion counterparts to earn a living wage and benefits.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren heartily endorsed the economic agenda. She says that she owes her own success in life to the economic policies of postwar America, in which union rights were strong and the minimum wage was high enough that her mother was able to support a family with an entry-level job at Sears.

"I always get applause when I say I'm for equal pay for equal work," she said. "But real economic equality will take more changes in America's economic policies.”

New Contracts Boost Workers, Energize Local

by Mark McCullough   |  November 20, 2015

Hundreds of hardworking men and women of AFSCME Local 2227 recently ratified three new contracts, providing not only a boost to members’ paychecks but also serving to protect public service jobs in the future.

The members, who proudly make Florida’s Polk County Public Schools happen, united to pass strong contracts for bus drivers and bus attendants, food service staff and for maintenance, custodial and vehicle services employees.

Along with stopping any harmful changes to employee health care and retirement plans, the contracts will help the local make good progress toward its goal of adding 100 new members by the end of the year. More than 60 new members have already joined and a new membership committee kicked off with the new school year.

Increasing wages was a priority for the union, not only because it puts more money into members’ pockets, but because it will help recruit new employees.

“In recent years we’ve had a problem filling open positions because starting pay in many positions was just not competitive,” said Local 2227 Pres. Larry Milhorne, a carpenter in the maintenance department’s Lake Wales Shop. “When you can’t fill positions, you open yourself up to outsourcing. And when you start getting your jobs outsourced that really could be the death of your union.”

Each contract’s step increases were improved to ensure that all workers will get a pay raise. Also, starting pay is higher, especially for food service employees who saw their starting pay jump from $8.05 an hour to $10 an hour. That increase is expected to entice more people to apply for openings, thereby reducing the threat of outsourcing their work to for-profit companies.

Besides protecting retirement and health care plans from cuts, the contracts included new worker participation provisions -- a new field trip committee for bus drivers and worker input on testing for open maintenance positions.

“We did some good things with these contracts,” said Milhorne. “We saved some jobs, and we’ve already seen the hiring pick up. So I’m confident in saying we met our goals.”

‘Lunch Ladies Rock’ and Win Big at the Polls

by Larry Dorman and Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 20, 2015

‘Lunch Ladies Rock’ and Win Big at the Polls School cafeteria workers engaged the community in their fight against outsourcing services.

This past Election Day, school cafeteria workers sent a clear message that there are consequences to putting corporate profit ahead of children’s nutrition, voting out a majority on the Bristol (Connecticut) Board of Education that tried to outsource school lunch service.

Proponents of the outsourcing plan held a 5-4 majority, but failed to garner public support for the measure when they introduced it in 2013. Mobilizing under the name “Lunch Ladies Rock,” the hardworking cafeteria workers helped elect a new board with a 6-3 majority adamantly opposed to privatizing school nutrition services.

“Bristol voters, by their overwhelming rejection of outsourcing, sent a powerful reminder that when people really know what’s going on, they will stand up for other working families and demand fairness from elected officials,” said Sal Luciano, AFSCME Council 4 executive director and also International vice president.

The hardworking women and men went beyond traditional means of rallies and Board of Education speak-outs to build a community to disseminate their message and garner public support for their fight. The Lunch Ladies Rock Facebook page proved to be an important tool to inform the community of the dangers of outsourcing. It also allowed workers to communicate their commitment to the students they serve to parents and neighbors alike.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle, but justice finally prevailed,” said Local 2267 Vice Pres. Kathy Martin, who spent 15 years as a cafeteria worker before becoming a paraprofessional this month. “Our members saw outsourcing as a threat not only to the jobs we love but to the children we serve. We stopped this recklessness by connecting with our community.”


Thank a National Education Support Professional Today!

by Pablo Ros  |  November 18, 2015

Thank a National Education Support Professional Today!

Today is National Education Support Professionals Day. It’s a day we thank school secretaries, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, bus drivers and all other school support staff that contribute to the education, well-being and safety of our children in schools across the nation.

This year it is especially important to be thankful to these public service workers, many of whom are members of unions. Through their unions, they not only bargain for fair wages and benefits but ensure they have the proper tools to give the best possible services to their communities. All that’s at stake in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case.

Opponents of public sector workers in the case, known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, seek to take away workers’ ability to form unions and bargain for the very things that allow workers to do their jobs and provide valuable services to the public. Who wouldn’t want great public services for their communities? The forces behind the Friedrichs case are the super wealthy who want more power for their big businesses.

In an economy that already favors corporate CEOs and the rich who can afford to manipulate the rules, Friedrichs threatens to make an already out-of-balance economy even worse. A group called the Center for Individual Rights, which the American Prospect recently revealed has been funded by right-wing 1 percenters including the Koch brothers – and even white supremacists – is trying to make it even harder for public service workers like teachers, nurses and social workers to band together at work for better wages, benefits and standards that improve the lives of all Americans.

The best way to thank a school support professional today is to stand with them in this fight. And you can stand with them by taking action.

Thousands of working people have already signed a petition telling the Center for Individual Rights to stop attacking working people.

Make sure you sign the petition and get in on the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag: #WorkTogether.

Take Action on Friedrichs this Week: Stop the Attacks

by Omar Tewfik  |  November 18, 2015

Take Action on Friedrichs this Week: Stop the Attacks

AFSCME members know all too well what’s at stake for America’s working families when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association in January. That’s why this week, AFSCME and labor, civil rights and community partners in the America Works Together coalition are raising awareness through a “week of action.”

In an economy that already favors corporate CEOs and the rich who can afford to manipulate the rules, Friedrichs threatens to make an already out-of-balance economy even worse. A group called the Center for Individual Rights, which the American Prospect recently revealed has been funded by right-wing 1 percenters including the Koch brothers – and even white supremacists – is trying to make it even harder for public service workers like teachers, nurses and social workers to band together at work for better wages, benefits and standards that improve the lives of all Americans.

Thousands of working people have already signed a petition telling the Center for Individual Rights to stop attacking working people.

Make sure you sign the petition and get in on the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag: #WorkTogether

Through their unions, working people are able to speak up together for wages and benefits that sustain their families and set standards for everyone. But the benefits of union members banding together and speaking with one voice go beyond better wages for everyone. Strong unions mean teachers can negotiate for smaller class sizes, nurses can come together to ensure hospitals provide safe staffing, and first responders can speak up for the things they need to keep the public safe.  

“My co-workers and I help keep drinking water safe, make sure air quality doesn’t promote sickness, and clean up land and water for recreation and sustainable development,” said Karen Williams, a water quality analyst at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and member of AFSCME Council 75. “That’s why we need to maintain our voice on the job – to be able to speak up together for training, safety standards and best practices to do our work properly and more efficiently for the benefit of everyone in our state.”

This week, join fellow AFSCME sisters and brothers and working people across the country to say enough is enough! We’re not going to let CEOs and special interests silence the voices of working people by using this case to attack public service workers.

Sign the petition: Tell Center for Individual Rights: Stop Attacking Working People


Documentary Film Shows Threat to ‘Right to Unite’

by Pablo Ros  |  November 17, 2015

Documentary Film Shows Threat to ‘Right to Unite’

“The Right to Unite” is a 19-minute documentary film by Alliance for Justice that captures exactly what’s at stake if rich, powerful interests have their way in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case known as Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Narrated by Bradley Whitford, an American actor and union member best known for his role in the TV drama, The West Wing, the film tells the story of two American women, Lidia Rodriguez of AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers and Alantris Muhammad of SEIU.

Rodriguez and Muhammad demonstrate extraordinary self-sacrifice in the face of tragedy and adversity. Like many home care providers who give up their careers and personal goals to care for loved ones at home, these two women are models of compassion and loving care.

They are also, as home care workers, what our society needs to provide for our aging population in the best and most cost-efficient way. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t see it that way.

In 2014, the conservative majority on the bench voted to limit the collective bargaining rights of home care providers, many of whom make just above the minimum wage. As Rodriguez herself points out in the film: “I get paid $10.10 an hour…. Animal shelter workers get paid $17 an hour for taking care of dogs.”

But it could get worse. If the same conservative justices band together again in the Friedrichs case, then all public sector workers could see their collective bargaining rights severely limited. This would undoubtedly lead to a decline in the quality of public services and further exacerbate income inequality in our nation.

Watch the trailer here (the full documentary begins right afterwards).

Hillary Supporters Overflow Watch Party at Democratic Debate

by David Patterson and John Noonan  |  November 17, 2015

Hillary Supporters Overflow Watch Party at Democratic Debate AFSCME Iowa Local 1868 Pres. (Polk County Workers) Todd Copley addresses the audience at the Drake University Presidential debate prior about the importance of caucusing for all Iowans.

Des Moines – Hundreds of Hillary supporters, including scores of union members proudly wearing their “AFSCME for Hillary” t-shirts, managed to wedge themselves in to Saturday’s Presidential debate party held on Drake University’s campus.

The standing-room-only crowd listened intently to the two-hour debate between Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, where the candidates discussed terrorism and homeland security in the wake of the Paris attacks, economic policy and health care, among other topics.

AFSCME for Hillary supporters cheer at the Presidential Debate Party. AFSCME for Hillary supporters cheer at the Presidential Debate Party.

The biggest cheer, however, went up when Secretary Clinton called out Iowa’s own tea-party Gov. Terry Brandstad, who is at the center of controversy for his own health care initiative to privatize the management of Iowa’s $4.2 billion Medicaid program among four corporations.

Commenting on Sanders’ plan to move the country to a single-payer health system to be administered by each state, Clinton said, “I have looked at the legislation that Senator Sanders has proposed, and basically he does eliminate the Affordable Care Act…which he then hands over to the states to administer. And I have to tell you, I would not want, if I lived in Iowa, Terry Brandstad administering my health care.”

AFSCME members echoed Clinton’s concern about Brandstad’s privatization scheme. “The governor is asking families to gamble on their health,” said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 retiree Michael McCarthy.

As for AFSCME members in Iowa, there is consensus that Clinton is the right candidate for union members and working people across the state. “I support Hillary because she fights for working people like me,” said Edgar Ortiz, a member of Local 3450. “She knows that you can’t have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.”

States Back Working People in Friedrichs Case

by Michael Byrne  |  November 16, 2015

States Back Working People in Friedrichs Case

The top attorneys for 20 states and the District of Columbia have filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief supporting working people in Friedrichs v. the California Teachers Association, a case pushed to the Supreme Court by corporate CEOs and special interests intent on destroying unions.

Saying that “unions go hand-in-hand with a strong middle class,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the pro-worker coalition at a Sunday press conference in New York City, where he was joined by Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

“The Supreme Court should follow settled precedent and allow states like New York to manage our own labor relations and achieve labor peace and government efficiency and to continue our long tradition of support for workers,” Schneiderman said.

“There is nothing remotely fair about dismantling fair-share arrangements in public-sector union contracts,” Jepsen said. “Strong public-sector unions are and should remain important partners in ensuring effective government for citizens.”

Also weighing in was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also filed an amicus brief and vowed to stand with unions “and the working- and middle-class families that unions protect. … Unions have been key in the fight against inequality, and their role remains vital today when workers’ rights are increasingly under attack.”

A joint AFSCME and AFL-CIO brief filed Nov. 13 strongly defends the precedent in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a unanimous 1977 Supreme Court ruling that public-sector unions can collect fair-share fees to support their work in representing workers who choose not to join the union.

“So long as the fee payer is given a reasonable opportunity to express dissent and refrain from subsidizing the non-chargeable activity, the First Amendment is satisfied,” according to court precedents, attorneys for AFSCME and the federation argued.

AFSCME also is part of a growing coalition of labor, civil rights and community organizations working to educate the public about the case. Find out more at



Archivist Picked for Health and Safety Advisory Council

by Pablo Ros  |  November 13, 2015

Archivist Picked for Health and Safety Advisory Council Nan Thompson Ernst has a new safety and health assignment. Credit: Photo courtesy AFSCME Local 2910

By her own admission, Nan Thompson Ernst, a Library of Congress archivist and AFSCME member of Local 2910, is not a health and safety expert. But for several years she was active on her local’s health and safety committee, and last month she was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to serve on the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH).

Ernst’s appointment to FACOSH gives her a chance to serve on a board that advises the Secretary of Labor on all matters regarding the occupational safety and health of federal employees.

“I’m a little humbled and kind of amazed,” says Ernst, who was nominated for the position by her union.

Ernst is first vice president and chief steward of the Library of Congress Professional Guild, AFSCME Local 2910. She’s been an AFSCME member for almost 20 years.

“My first responsibility in the union was to represent employees as a union representative on the health and safety committee, something I did for six or seven years,” she says. “The health and safety committee had a big responsibility because we didn’t have access to OSHA protections until fairly recently. Through that union assignment, I learned what occupational safety and health was all about and became an advocate for workplace safety.”

Despite appearances, a library is not necessarily the safest place to work. For one, as Ernst puts it, “the building is chockful of combustibles.” The collection at the Library of Congress has been a victim to fire three times in history. Proper fire safety precautions and evacuation routes are especially important for a government library located on Capitol Hill. Other health issues are musculoskeletal injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic conditions for people whose jobs require repetitive motion. And, of course, working in an old building means potential exposure to asbestos, lead paint and lead in the water.

In her new role as a member of FACOSH, Ernst hopes to contribute her knowledge of health and safety issues as a rank-and-filer and union member.

“I’m guessing one of the reasons they were interested in me is because I’m not a health and safety professional, but I come as a union representative just doing it as my collateral duty. There are not too many rank-and-filers on this committee,” she says. “I also think I’ll have something to contribute as a representative of the legislative branch, where all the other participants are representatives of executive branch agencies.”

Ernst says she’s been told the committee meets twice a year, and the next meeting is in February 2016.

She is looking forward to it.

“I’ll strive to do my best,” she says.

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